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Smokin' in L.A.

Despite Stringent Antismoking Laws, L.A. Residents and Visitors Still Have Plenty of Places To Enjoy a Fine Cigar
Jean T. Barrett
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Summer 96

Last October's Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke in Los Angeles took place under the stern governance of California's new law that bans smoking in most places of employment. From the get-go, zealous local regulators covered the cigar extravaganza at the Century Plaza Hotel like a wet blanket, determined at all cost to prevent smoking in a dining area. It seemed as if every time I turned around I faced a no-smoking sign--this at a cigar event!

As the festivities drew to a close, I left the downstairs function rooms and took an escalator up to the lobby, ascending, to my amusement, into a swirling miasma of cigar smoke. There, several dozen contented gentlemen and ladies were openly--and legally--enjoying their stogies, along with adult beverages, in the lobby bar, without a sign or regulator in sight. (Areas of hotel lobbies, bars and clubs are currently exempt from the new law.)

Such are the contradictions one finds in Southern California, where a sweeping no-smoking regulation would seem to have utterly outlawed enjoyment of cigars--only it hasn't.

L.A. is smokin'. Just try to get a last-minute reservation at Hamilton's, the cigar bar next to the Wine Merchant of Beverly Hills. Or drive down the coast, pull into the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey and follow the faint scent of Dominican leaf to the hotel's Library bar, where local cigar lovers like to hold court. On a warm summer night, reserve an outdoor table at Schatzi on Main in Santa Monica and light up with impunity. If anybody beefs, tell 'em Ah-nold (as in Schwarzenegger, who owns the joint) said it was OK.

The long arm of the law notwithstanding, entrepreneurs in the L.A. hospitality industry have figured out a number of legal ways to accommodate cigar smoking patrons. One method is to put dining tables outdoors. In Southern California, dining alfresco is an option many months of the year. Just remember it's not tropical here and evening temperatures often dip down to chilly levels. Although most outdoor dining areas in L.A. are protected or semi-protected by wind breaks, and most also have propane heaters, a jacket or wrap is often needed.

Following is a sampling of some of the most popular places in the Los Angeles area to enjoy a fine cigar, ranging from tobacconists to nightclubs and private clubs, to hotel and restaurant bars. Many additional L.A.-area restaurant, hotel and club bars, as well as tobacconists, accommodate cigar smokers, so it's best to call and check, particularly since an establishment's cigar policy can depend on who's on duty.

A final, sobering note: All this could change as of Jan. 1. Unless other preemptive legislation passes, the new antismoking law's other shoe will drop on New Year's Day, banning smoking in California bars.

CIGAR EMPORIA

The Beverly Hills Pipe & Tobacco Co.
218 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
(310) 276-3200

The TV is nearly always on in this old-fashioned shop that sells more than 70 brands of cigars. Mornings, customers pop in for a smoke and monitor their investments on the business channel; in the afternoon, customers watch sporting events over a cigar or two.


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